Central Post Office (Ottawa Postal Station B)


Archives: The Langevin Block from Yesterday to Today & The Blackburn Building

PCO employees work in several recognized heritage buildings

Location: 47-59 Sparks Street

Central Post Office (Ottawa Postal Station B) Around 1940
Central Post Office
(Ottawa Postal
Station B) Around 1940

The Central Post Office has been a focal point for Ottawa's downtown community for over 60 years. Built in 1939, the building's architecture and function link the sweeping national ceremonial spaces of Confederation Square with the intimacy of the local shops and office buildings along Sparks Street.

The Central Post Office and the other buildings of this section of Elgin Street are part of Confederation Square – a designated National Historic Site.

The ground floor of the building continues to serve as a post office, while the upper levels provide office space for the Privy Council Office. The building is owned by Public Works and Government Services Canada.

History

Central Post Office (Ottawa Postal Station B) 2009
Central Post Office
(Ottawa Postal
Station B) 2009

The Central Post Office was constructed between 1938 and 1939 as part of an ambitious plan to redevelop Confederation Square as an elegant approach to Parliament Hill and an appropriate home for the National War Memorial.

The new postal substation replaced the previous Ottawa Post Office (located at the corner of Wellington and Elgin), which was removed to make way for the Confederation Square project. It was the federal government's main contribution to the redesign of the eastern end of Ottawa's central business district.

Ottawa architect, W.E. Noffke, developed plans for a functional, modern building with a Classical façade that would complement the surrounding buildings of national significance. Noffke then submitted his plans for approval to Jacques Gréber, the French architect and urban planner who had been hired by Prime Minister King to create a master decorative plan for Confederation Square and the national capital as a whole.

Gréber approved the plans with the addition of a soaring Château-style roof and dormers. The postal substation was the only building the federal government actually constructed that followed Gréber's original concept for the area.

Architecture

Bronze front doors
Bronze front doors

The Central Post Office is an example of the ‘modern Classical' style of architecture used in federal government buildings of the late 1930s. An eight-storey, steel-frame building, it is covered in Queenstone limestone with a black granite base. Its key features included:

  • A modern, Classical, tri-partite façade with shallowly carved detailing
  • Château-style dormers and a steeply pitched, copper roof
  • An angled front corner to emphasize the main entrance
  • A clock tower to create elevation and hide the elevator shaft
  • A large ornamental clock above the front entrance
  • Bronze front doors with decorations that illustrate Canada's postal history
  • Carved lions at each doorway, created by the sculptor, William ‘Coeur de Lion' MacCarthy
  • Space for vaults, sorting areas and a woodworking workshop
Carved lions by sculptor Coeur de Lion MacCarthy
Carved lions by
sculptor Coeur de
Lion MacCarthy
Carved lions by sculptor Coeur de Lion MacCarthy
Carved lions by
sculptor Coeur de
Lion MacCarthy

These features help to draw the visitor's eye up and along the neighbouring rooflines towards the Parliament Buildings. The bronze doorway and ornamental clock emphasize the angled corner of the building, creating the sense of a gateway to the Sparks Street business district.

The original lobby featured smooth marble walls with contrasting flat pilasters with decorative carving and nickel silver and bronze grillwork in the Art Deco style.

Inside the post office, visitors can still see the deep, marble covered window wells that gave customers space for addressing their mail.

The Architect

W.F. Noffke was a distinguished Ottawa-area architect who designed several prestigious commercial buildings and Ottawa homes in the early 20th century. These included the:

  1. Lansdowne Park Dairy Building (1905) and grandstand (1909)
  2. Ogilvy Store (1906)
  3. Blackburn Building (1907-11)

He also collaborated with Moses C. Edey on the Aberdeen Pavilion (1898) and the Daly Building (1905).

The Sculptor

Ornamental clock
Ornamental clock

‘Coeur de Lion' MacCarthy was known across Canada for his war memorials and busts of important Canadians. These heritage pieces included:

  1. The lions guarding the entrance to the Parliament Buildings
  2. ‘Winged Victory', a Vancouver memorial commemorating Canadian Pacific Railway employees who lost their lives in World War I (1921)
  3. Busts of Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Queen Victoria for Canada's Parliament Buildings

Key Links

National Historic Sites
Public Works and Government Services Canada